Ramadan encourages charity, connection with God and community

Friday, August 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 21, 2009

CORRECTION: The first day of fasting for Ramadan begins Saturday, based on the sighting of the new moon. The first day of Taraweeh, special prayers and recitations of the Quran, begins Friday for Columbia's Muslim community.

COLUMBIA — When the Islamic tradition of Ramadan begins at sundown Saturday* , Muslims will spend the next 30 days hungry. They will also spend the month deepening their connection with God.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is a time of fasting from food and water. All Muslims who are able fast from sunrise to sundown during the entire month. This fast is spelled out in the fourth pillar of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are the foundations of the faith. Once fasting ends at sundown, family and friends commonly eat a meal together.

According to Rashed Nizam, educational officer for the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, Ramadan means more to Muslims than meets the eye.

“I am not doing it just to fulfill the commandment,” Nizam said. “All the Muslims have the goal to become God-conscious. This is an opportunity for you to achieve that.”

In becoming more aware of God, Nizam said, people become more humble and polite. During Ramadan, he said, a visible change can be seen in those observing the fast, especially in terms of charity.

“People become more generous because they see what hunger looks like and how hunger feels,” Nizam said. “And that reminds them that there are millions of people around the world that are fasting not by choice but because they have to.”

Nizam said the Islamic Center is working on organizing efforts to bring food to the St. Francis homeless shelter on Sunday evenings during the month. He said the month is also used as a time to collect money for the Central Missouri Food Bank. Last year the center donated roughly 50,000 pounds of food during Ramadan.

The Prophet Muhammad exemplified that concept of charity, Nizam said, and in a time of connecting with God during the fast, Muslims have a heart to do the same.

“We look forward to this month to come because this month is sacred, and we feel like we come closer to our creator,” Nizam said. “You are in obedience of the Lord. That gives Muslims that extra special feeling about that relationship with God."

The dates of Ramadan change from year to year. The Muslim calendar is lunar, consequently the first day of the holiday tends to move by about 11 days on the Gregorian calendar.

There will be various activities and services held at the Islamic Center throughout the month of Ramadan.

Some of these activities include congregational prayers called Tarweeh, recitation of the Quran through out the day, daily lectures and Friday sermons on the benefit of Ramadan by Imam Abdullah.

Recitation of the Quran throughout the day will be with a visiting scholar from  Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Shaykh Adul Hassan Haggag.

Weekend meals are also held at the center on both Saturday and Sunday.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, early congregational prayers will be held at 3 a.m.

Ramadan is also a time for community. The Islamic Center holds dinners for young adult men and women every night. The majority of those who attend are students, said Ahmed Habib, a chairman of the board at center.

This month creates a prime time to focus on interfaith connections and community. The Islamic Center will host a dinner in Sept. 15 for Columbia's faith community.

The Muslim Student Organization and the Jewish Student Organization will be commemorating the end of Ramadan and Yom Kippur by breaking the fast together on Sept. 29. These two organizations have broken the fast together in the past when the two holidays coincided. This year, however, Ramadan ends nine days before the end of Yom Kippur. Time and place of the meal are still to be determined.

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